# What are the rules for pronunciation of years in English?

We pronounce 1923 as nineteen twenty-three; but 1900 as nineteen hundred. Why isn't year 2000 pronounced as twenty hundred instead of two thousand?

What are the rules for pronunciation of years in English? Does it change according to the first two digits of year? Could you give examples for special cases, if any?

• ♫ in the year twenty-five twenty-five, if man is still alive... ♫ Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 13:05
• I love that song. It reminds me my youth ;) Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 13:19
• The particular case of 1900 vs. 2000 is not limited to talking about years. When naming numbers, "nineteen hundred" is common, and "twenty hundred" is almost never used. Edit: "Ten hundred" is actually used some, maybe its simply a number-of-syllables thing.
– res
Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 14:10
• Ten hundred and twenty hundred are only used for military time, as far as I know. Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 14:44

For one thing, "two thousand" is shorter to say than "twenty hundred".

• 600: six hundred
• 601: six oh one (shorter than six hundred one)
• 1899: eighteen ninety-nine (shorter than one thousand eight hundred ninety-nine)
• 1900: nineteen hundred (shorter than one thousand nine hundred)
• 1901: nineteen oh one (shorter than nineteen hundred one, shorter than one thousand nine hundred one)
• 1999: nineteen ninety nine (shorter than one thousand nine hundred ninety-nine)
• 2000: two thousand (or 2 "K"?) (shorter than twenty hundred)
• 2009: two thousand nine (shorter than twenty hundred nine)
• 2010: twenty ten (shorter than two thousand ten)

Basically when the number has three zeros it is shorter to say "thousand" than "hundred". Once there are fewer than three zeros it is shorter to say "Y thousand X" for Y00X and "Y hundred X" for YYXX.

This usage isn't limited to years either. Any numbers in the same range will have the same kinds of contractions. There is a Simpsons episode where this is played for laughs, when they need eighty-five-hundred dollars to fix their roof, and they only have \$500, and Homer whines that they still need eighty-hundred.

• NOte that "twenty one" (parallel with "twenty ten") was not available because of the number "twenty-one". But this doesn't account for why "twenty oh one" was not popular. Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 16:59
• @Colin I think the “twenty oh-” names for the years 2001–2009 were not popular because of cultural impact of the film/book 2001 decades before the year arrived.
– nohat
Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 18:29
• I wouldn't consider "nineteen oh one" correct for 1901, even if it is shorter. It's a zero ('0'), not the letter 'O'. I would consider "nineteen hundred one" correct. Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 20:00
• @Paul: people say "oh" for zero all the time. secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/867-5309/Jenny for example. Commented Nov 24, 2010 at 16:15
• @Maggyero the short answer is: whatever is shortest, and sounds most like a number. So "Two thousand seven" is the same number of syllables as "Twenty oh seven". I never heard anyone say "Twenty oh" for the years 2000-2009. Likewise, "six hundred" but "six oh one" for years less than 1000. Commented Mar 25, 2020 at 2:50

There are no rules, only loose conventions, formed for brevity, convenience and ease of mental parsing.

The convention has been modified for the years 2000-2009 (two thousand and nine), just as it has for 1000-1009, probably for the reason Nav mentions - it just parses nicely that way to an English speaker. You can expect every year from 2010 (twenty-ten) onwards to soon revert to the conventional form in common parlance, which has the advantage of being shorter and distinguishes centuries from one another very clearly.

Worth noting is the fact that the years 1-999 are usually suffixed with "AD" to make it clear that we are talking about a year rather than an arbitrary figure. Post-1000 years do not require this verbal signposting as the use of this unusual convention makes it clear that these are years.

• I've only heard 2012 said as twenty-twelve, but I've heard 2011 as both two thousand eleven and as twenty-eleven. So yeah, we're moving towards the grouping-by-two-digits method again. Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 14:39
• @Martha: I wonder if the switch to "twenty-X" is delayed from "twenty-ten" because for the past 10 years people have been saying "two-thousand-X" and they are used to saying that. I bet that 20 years from now nobody will still say "two-thousand eleven" Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 18:42

In England we say "two-thousand-and-one" not "two-thousand-one" etc. Most people say twenty-eleven, twenty-twelve, but I'd say there was a 50/50 split between 'two-thousand-and-ten' and 'twenty-ten'.

The logic apparently lies in grouping the digits in a way that's easy to visualize (mentally) and/or pronounce. Since there are always two zeroes in nineteen hundred, saying 'hundred' makes sense. 2000 has three zeroes, which is visually easier to recognize and split as two and 'thousand'. Reg has given an example. There don't seem to be any other logical reasons for this trend.

I think the main reason is a rhythm of pronunciation. That's why we use "two thousand ..." instead of "twenty ...". Also I have heard a two songs with "two thousand twelve". So the change will occur in 2013.

• I tend to agree. ten, eleven and twelve are the odd ones out anyway compared to xxxxteen Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 12:48
• @mplungjan I watch WWE shows (wrestling) and they pronounce 2011 as two thousand eleven, so I'm right so far. One year is left. Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 13:13
• At least in American English :) Commented Mar 23, 2011 at 13:14
• @vorrtex, Songs? What country? Counter-example: "...like it's thirty twelve tonight..." Commented May 29, 2017 at 10:46
• @Pacerier by the way a lot of people still pronounced "two thousand sixteen" last year in the USA. So it didn't stop after 2010. Commented Jun 30, 2017 at 22:08